It's Day 3 of Telluride Horror Show! Today was a feature-length day for us, diving into Black Friday, Antlers, and The Sadness. I (Sickle) will be covering Antlers, Efrit will be covering Black Friday (so check out his article as well), and we'll both give our two cents on The Sadness. Check out our reviews from the final day of THS!
Perhaps our most highly anticipated film of the past 3 years (primarily because we were denied it for so long), we finally got to see this horror film featuring the legendary wendigo in a creative and visceral form not yet explored, at least at this budget and with this care. While my cohort would not share my exuberance, Antlers was everything I wanted and struck all the right chords. Everything from the plot, to the cinematography, to the acting, to the creature design...it was all well done.
The overarching plot isn't going to surprise anyone who is familiar with the trailers. There is a small town besieged by an entity that "infects" a single father of two and mutates him into a flesh-starving, monstrous wendigo, and a teacher and her sheriff brother try to stop it. That's it, nothing too fancy. But the subplot that tackles the trauma of child abuse (which admittedly takes a dent out of the pacing on more than one occasion) not only helps ground the story, but give it more substance and relatability.
The pacing is the most obvious flaw in this film as it drags on multiple occasions through the first hour. There are several breaks as we see the progression of the wendigo plot, but if you don't find yourself interested in the character development of the leads' traumatic pasts, you may find yourself yawning more than you'd like. But the slow-burn is all worth it if the payoff is there, and the payoff is most definitely there.
The creativity and execution of the creature design is fantastic. We see the transformation of the wendigo throughout the film, culminating in a climax that is some of the best original monster work I've seen in a creature feature in recent memory. While some may argue over technical screen time, I found the patient and gradual reveals to only enrich the flavor of the final act.
It is also a beautifully shot film with its somber, yet gorgeous views of the Oregonian countryside. I found myself enthralled with the environment with the rich greens contrasted against the grays of the clouds and fog that hover over every scene like a sobering darkness. The naturally drab yet thriving environment gives you the impression of its "nature versus humanity" vibe that is sprinkled in throughout the runtime.
Antlers was everything I wanted, but I can also see why it would leave some wanting more. We've been waiting for this movie for so long, it was hard for it to live up to the hype that was built around it solely by its suffering of its own delays. But, for me, this movie was worth the wait.
This movie felt like a rite of passage of sorts, in that it was a test of the fortitude of diehard horror fans to handle over-the-top violence and mayhem. Unlike similar claims in the recent past of films that would "make you vomit" or "walk out of the theater" (here's looking at you, Raw), This movie actually held up well to the hype. It is certainly gruesome, brutal, and depraved, so if you want to test the boundaries of what you can handle in that regard, this movie may be for you.
I don't have a lot more beyond that to say about The Sadness. The effects work is well done, but purposefully over-the-top at times, presumably to limit the reality of it. It also uses its plot to critique our current pandemic experiences as well, which makes some of the script more real than you may want. Other than that, it was a nasty thrill ride that delivers on what it promises. But I don't think there is enough underlying substance to claim its violence is worth it for its own sake beyond the challenge and/or entertainment value it may bring on that merit.
Well, that is the bittersweet conclusion to our THS 2021 experience. It was truly amazing to be back in Telluride, experiencing the festival with others face-to-face. It was an awesome curation of shorts and feature films, as always, and we have plenty to gush about for months to come. Thank you for having us, THS, and we will see you next year!